Joe Calvacca: “We’re talkin’ Sanitation”

Joe Calvacca


Narrator: Joe Calvacca

Interview: Lana Povitz

Date: March 28, 2011

Place: Queens, New York

Duration: 1:19:45

[audio:|titles=Joe Hearts Sanitation]

In conversation with interviewer Lana Povitz, retired New York Department of Sanitation worker Joe Calvacca holds forth on a wide range of subjects. With passion and eloquence, he recounts how he got involved with the Department, and how he encouraged his son to do the same. He describes some of the different jobs he has worked, from sweeping in the Bronx to collecting paper in East New York in his famous customized recycling truck. He discusses the perks and perils associated with the job, and shares thoughts on publicity, public opinion, the Sanitation community, and the pride and satisfaction of a job well done.

transcript Joe Calvacca


Joe Calvacca (1954-) was born and raised in Queens, New York. His grandfather was a sanitation worker who made him aware of the excellent benefits associated with being a “San Man,” such as the ability to retire after twenty years at half pay.  Joe absorbed this practical sensibility and passed it on to his own son, who aced the city’s sanitation worker test at age fourteen with flying colors. At eighteen, finally old enough to work, Joe Jr. became one of the youngest San Man ever to be on the job.


In the early 1990s, Joe (Sr.) attracted significant media attention with his customized, sparkling-clean recycling truck, which had signs in Spanish for those on his route who could not understand English, not to mention amusing stickers (“Business is picking up!”), chrome hubcaps, and a radio with stereo speakers.  Joe and his truck were on various news shows and he was named Sanitation Worker of the Year for his efforts, commitment, and innovation.

Joe Calvacca's truck, 1995


During the interview, Joe expressed some frustration with those New Yorkers who are quick to judge Sanitation workers without realizing how difficult, dangerous, and relentless these jobs are. Along with the Fire and Police Departments, Sanitation was at Ground Zero on the day of 9-11, toiling as bravely and resolutely as everyone else, breathing in toxic fumes as they cleared away the wreckage. Despite the way Joe and his colleagues have sometimes been overlooked, Joe’s experience with the Department of Sanitation has been overwhelmingly positive.  As he puts it, “Sanitation put bread on my table and friends in my pocket.” His community of loyal and hard-working Sanitation friends and their families remain dear to him today.

Part I


Part II


Part III


Part IV



Leave a Reply